High Social Stress Associated With Bone Loss in Postmenopausal Women

By Mat Lecompte, Bel Marra Health
July 22, 2019 Updated: July 22, 2019

Many conditions can lead to bone loss, and new research shows how stress can be a possible risk factor.

According to the study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, poor-quality social relationships that contribute to psychosocial stress may be related to bone loss in postmenopausal women.

Stress has been proven in previous studies as a well-established risk factor for many chronic diseases. Psychological stress, such as traumatic life events, low life satisfaction, and lower levels of optimism may all be associated with fractures.

Psychosocial stress is the physiological and emotional reaction experienced when a situation arises that can take an individual goes beyond their coping resources. Other stressful situations that have been known to push individuals’ stress levels are marital problems, abuse, death of a loved one, health problems, and financial crises.

Decline in Bone Mineral Density

For this study, the premise was that psychosocial stress might increase fracture risk because of a decline in bone mineral density (BMD). The authors suggested that stressors may alter BMD through changes in hormone levels. This can include thyroid hormones, cortisol, growth hormone, and glucocorticoids.

Previously, very few studies have studied the relationship between stress and BDM. The data was collected from 11,020 postmenopausal women who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI). The WHI is a long-term U.S. health study launched in 1993 to assess strategies for preventing heart disease, colorectal and breast cancer, and osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women.

The data was collected at the time of enrolment and during a follow-up visit six years later. The women were required to complete a questionnaire at enrolment, which included information regarding stress and their available social support, which measures positive relationships. They were also asked about social strain, which measures negative social interactions and relationships as well as social functioning, which looks at limitations in social activity

The research showed that there was a link between social stress and lower BMD after adjusting for potential influencing factors such as age, education, existing conditions, smoking status, alcohol use, hormone therapy use, age at menopause, physical activity, history of fracture after age 55, and weight.

“We identified specific psychosocial stressors pertaining to the social environment that were associated with bone loss,” the authors wrote.

It was also found that after the six-year follow-up, higher social strain was associated with a lower BMD of the hip, femoral neck (just below the ball of the ball-and-socket hip joint), and lumbar spine (lower back). Social functioning stress was connected with more significant bone loss of the hip and femoral neck.

The authors of the study point out that this is an observational study and, therefore, can’t establish cause and that psychosocial stress levels may have been lower than average because participants in the Women’s Health Initiative were healthy individuals living in the community. Also, psychosocial stress levels were self-reported at the start of the study and could have changed over the follow-up period.

However, the authors of the study did conclude, “We found that bone loss is among the physiological stress responses more strongly related to the quality of social relationships than quantity. The results support community-building social stress interventions in postmenopausal women to potentially limit bone loss.”

Mat Lecompte is a freelance health and wellness journalist. This article was first published on Bel Marra Health.

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